Wisconsin Town Reconsiders Ban on Snowball Fights

WAUSAU, Wis. (CN) – Despite the recent unseasonable warmth in the area, a small central Wisconsin city has winter weather on its mind as the city council is poised to toss a ban on snowballs as thrown projectiles.

The ban on snowballs originated in 1962 in the interest of public safety. The municipal code lumps snowballs together with rocks, arrows, missiles or other thrown projectiles that could be considered dangerous weapons.

Wausau saw 96 inches of snow last winter, which is almost double the region’s average, according the National Weather Service.

But for nearly 60 years, bundling any of those icy crystals into a ball and throwing it at someone could technically result in a fine.

The ordinance has drawn attention to the small central Wisconsin city, home to a population of about 40,000 people, as word of the ban started spreading this month with stories in the New York Post, the Guardian, NBC News and other news outlets. 

The Wausau City Council’s public safety committee voted to remove snowballs from the projectile ban at its last meeting, and the full council will take up the measure next month.

Mielke’s office, the Wausau City Council and members of the council’s public safety committee could not be reached for comment on Christmas Eve.

City Council President Lisa Rasmussen told the Associated Press that the recent negative attention – including Barstool Sports’ lampooning of Wausau as “the worst town in America” due to the snowball embargo – has renewed the conversation over the ban.

Rasmussen said lifting the ban would help “mitigate that odd news story that keeps coming up like a bad penny.”

If a video posted to the Wausau Police Department’s Facebook page earlier this month depicting local police officers and the mayor having a snowball fight is any indication, the ban does not apply to all snowball fights. 

“A fun snowball fight is a fun snowball fight,” Deputy Police Chief Matt Barnes says in the video, noting that the department does not use the ban to crack down on fun and safe snowball fights.  

Barnes explains in the video that the department has used the ordinance to write about 10 tickets in the last 15 years. The citations included cases of people shooting crossbows into a neighbor’s yard, dropping sandbags off the roof of a downtown parking ramp and, on two occasions, throwing snowballs at passing cars.

The video ends with Barnes hitting Mielke in the back of the head with a snowball.

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Editor’s Note:

In an interview Thursday, Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke noted that most municipalities in the region that see regular snowfall have similar laws in place.

Though the law is an old one, “every three or four years this pops up,” Mielke said, referring to the renewed media focus.

“We are amazed and amused by the amount of attention that this has received,” he added.

Wausau Alderman Pat Peckham gave similar remarks Thursday.

“We were pretty dismayed by the original coverage … that appeared to be intended solely as click bait,” Peckham said.

The snowball issue is on the agenda for the full city council’s next meeting on Jan. 14.

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